During wartime, men and women serve their country abroad and also on the home front. This article comes from the reminiscences of Linda Skvarla, a daughter of Rose Alesiani. Rose was one of many “Rosie the Riveters,” women who stepped into typically male-oriented industrial jobs during World War II.
Rose D. Alesiani (Lalli) was born in 1921 to Italian immigrant parents in West Chester, Pennsylvania. As a young girl, Rose attended grammar school but was only able to go to one year of high school before going to work to help her mother, who had been widowed at a young age, support the family. At the beginning of World War II, Rose worked for the Denny Rayburn Company in West Chester, doing piecework. She sometimes brought work home in the evening so she, along with her sister and mother, could increase her count to bring in more money for the family. Then, Rose learned that Bellanca Aircraft Corporation, a company in New Castle, Delaware, was hiring women to do “men’s jobs,” working on fighter planes being built for the war effort. Rose applied to Bellanca and was hired. New Castle was a considerable distance from West Chester in the years before highways, and Rose made the daily trip in a used, cranky and sometimes unreliable 1936 Plymouth.
At first, Rose worked as one of several women on an assembly line making round cones for the tips of the propellers. But being adventurous and self-challenging, Rose soon became interested in applying for a more challenging position, one that had recently opened up in the factory: machine gun turret inspector. Despite not having finished high school, the determined young woman went to night school for several weeks to learn how to read blueprints, then took the required test and won the inspector job promotion. The pay started at $80 a week, and by the time Rose left due to layoffs in 1945 at the war’s end, she was making $100 a week—certainly a good income in those years. She was an excellent inspector, careful to not let any mistakes go undetected in her turrets. “My man is in this War,” began her motto, “and I want this thing right!”
While busily engaged in the wartime effort, Rose and her family faced emotional challenges, as did so many other families throughout the United States. Rose met Italian immigrant Tony Lalli, a shoemaker in West Chester, when she visited his shop to have a shoe repaired. They fell in love, but it was a romance interrupted by war. Before they were married, Tony, who at the time was not yet an American citizen, was drafted into the Army. He was given his United States American Citizenship papers and sent to France to do battle. After seeing action in the Normandy campaign, Tony was captured by the Germans and held as a prisoner of war from November 1944 until May 1945. For several months, the Alesiani and Lalli families did not know if he was dead or alive. Rose’s brother Dominick was also serving overseas, and she sent V-Mail letters to him, a few of which the family has preserved.
Rose loved her job and proudly played her role in the war effort. Her letters provide glimpses into the work routine: she recalled how managers at Bellanca installed loudspeakers in the factory, and each day they played records and gave short speeches to the employees. Rose commented that the music cheered everyone and made them feel more like working. In the spring of 1944, Bellanca Aircraft Corporation and members of Local-840, UAW-CIO put on a variety show, in which Rose participated by singing “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” The show traveled to other regional locations, including the recently established Dover Army Air Base (now Dover Air Force Base). In one of her V-Mail letters to Dominick, sent in April 1944, Rose wrote, “Well we gave two more shows for the public in Wilmington. And I think they were both successes. We have one more now at the Dover Airbase in Dover, Del….We all miss you a lot Dom but lets hope this war gets over with soon and then we’ll really have a grand time.”
Despite hardship and challenges, both Tony Lalli and Dominick Alesiani returned from the war, and Rose and Tony married on July 24, 1945. They eventually had three daughters. Rose never forgot the sacrifices made by so many people during the war. Daughter Linda recalls that nothing was ever wasted in their home. Rose helped bring victory to World War II by being one of the many women to rise to the challenge of industrial production. Sadly, this spirited woman lost a battle to breast cancer and died in July 1968 at the age of 46.
As Linda notes, “My family and I miss her but are so very proud of her—our Rose “Rosie the Riveter” Alesiani (Lalli).” We share that feeling of pride.